Nitpicking Alex Smith: Must improve ability to throw the ball away

Ralph Freso

Alex Smith turned in a near-perfect performance statistically vs. the Cardinals, however there was one area where he struggled: taking bad sacks instead of throwing the ball away.

I'm probably going to draw a lot of ire from some fans for writing this. Lord knows I drew plenty of it Monday night in suggesting that Alex Smith didn't actually play flawlessly, despite passing statistics mostly to the contrary. But believe it or not, I don't exist to please everyone...go figure.

Anyone who really knows me, who's been following me and reads most/all of my tweets and articles, knows that I'm not an Alex Smith hater, nor am I a complete Alex Smith homer. I just call it like I see it, and sometimes it's good stuff...sometimes it's bad.

On Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals, Alex Smith played a really good game. He only had one incompletion, finishing 18/19 and setting a new record for completion percentage with a minimum of 15 attempts. He didn't throw any interceptions, didn't fumble the ball, and he threw for three touchdowns.

So how could I possibly criticize anything about his performance? What could he have possibly done any better than he did? Wasn't he truly flawless last night? Didn't he do everything right? Well, no.

If there was one thing that frustrated me about Alex last night it was the egregious sacks. Now, you can get your defensive side fired-up and tell me that the sacks didn't hurt the 49ers, and you'd be right. But sometimes a guy throws three picks and the team still wins by 20 points. Does that mean you don't blame him for the INTs??

Football is a game of situations. Whether or not the sacks affected the game doesn't make them more meaningless than if they had. The fact remains that you want every block, every cut, every tackle to be as good as it can be. You get 1% better every day, as Jim Harbaugh says, right?

Well for Alex the 1% is learning to throw the ball away when he has insurmountable pressure. On at least two of the sacks he took last night he was given at least four seconds after the snap. Is that a ton of time? Heck no. But what is the magic number always used for QB's getting the ball out on anything BUT a seven-step drop? Yep, three seconds.

While it's not always possible, I think Alex himself would tell you that he needs to improve upon finding a legal place to throw the ball away when pressured and a sack is imminent. There is generally an orange Gatorade cooler on either sideline (sometimes more than one) that should be easy to locate, and provided it's beyond the line of scrimmage, it's perfectly legal to hit it if you're outside of the pocket. If Smith can't escape the pocket he should have a running back nearby.

It was mentioned earlier in the week that the last decade of Super Bowl winners were positive in sack differential. The 49ers are -9 in this category. Granted they're 6-2, but this could be a concern down the stretch. It's not just in winning games that Alex has taken what can be labeled as "bad sacks".

The bottom line is that Alex prides himself on being anal about the details. If he wants to get 1% better, well here's a great area to start. Losing zero yards vs. losing 5 or 10 (or more, at times) is always preferable. Understand too that I'm not advocating throwing the ball wildly into the field of play where an interception is possible. I'm talking about calculated throws that are intended to hit the ground or go out of bounds.

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